Monday, 31 December 2012

Jane Eyre by Charlotte Brontë (2/5)

The back says: Jane Eyre ranks as one of the greatest and most perennially popular works of English fiction. Although the poor but plucky heroine is outwardly of plain appearance, she possesses an indomitable spirit, a sharp wit and great courage. She is forced to battle against the exigencies of a cruel guardian, a harsh employer and a rigid social order. All of which circumscribe her life and position when she becomes governess to the daughter of the mysterious, sardonic and attractive Mr Rochester. However, there is great kindness and warmth in this epic love story, which is set against the magnificent backdrop of the Yorkshire moors.

I say: I read this in my teens, at the same time I was obsessing over all the British women writers, and had no recollection of it whatsoever; apart from a feeling of disliking Mr Rochester and Jane. After reading Wide Sargasso Sea by Jean Rhys last year I said that I would re-read Jane Eyre, but things came in between. Then I came across some internet questionnaire about people’s favourite romantic characters and a lot of people chose Mr Rochester, so I said to myself to finally re-read the novel.

And I wish I hadn’t.

I honestly had a hard time with this because I cannot stand Brontë’s writing or Jane Eyre’s annoyingly haughty personality. It took me over a month to finish as I would read a few pages, get annoyed and then stop. But then I told myself to just finish the damn thing, and so here we are.

There is so much hyperbole on nearly every page my brain started rebelling; the dialogue was so contrived I wanted to scream; and all the characters drove me to such insanity I would have thrown the book across the room, only I was reading on my e-reader since I couldn’t find my copy of Jane Eyre (which I genuinely hope I’ve thrown away). I truly understand now why I detest these types of novels, because I always say I do, but since it’s been so long since I read them I always question my judgement.

No more.

Jane is a stuck up, self-obsessed bitch who thinks she’s the bee’s knees and that everyone should love and live to help her. She’s rude all the time and justifies it by saying that she speaks her mind – she clearly values her own need to speak over the feelings of others. Then she falls in love with Mr Rochester, another self-obsessed bitch, and I laugh at her being mistreated by him without being able to figure out why. But then, of course, he falls in love with her and they both act like idiots for a short while, before being harshly separated.

Oh the humanity.

I want to say that I hate this novel, but I’m not sure if it’s the entire novel or just the characters, the plot, and the writing? Which would be the entire novel, I suppose. The entire time I was reading I kept wondering what it was about Mr Rochester that people like. Was it his rude behaviour to everyone? The way he wanted Jane to be his little love slave mistress? The way he was constantly condescending her? Or how he was saying he would force her to leave the country with him? Perhaps the fact that he wanted to become a bigamist? Or that he locked up his wife in the attic?

Why. Would. Anybody. Like. Him?

Gah.

In order to save myself the need to take a walk outside to cool my head, I’ll conclude this review by giving Jane Eyre 2/5 – I would have given it 1/5, but the one good thing about it is that it’s a great vehicle for teaching women how not to behave and what not to tolerate from a man.

Sunday, 30 December 2012

The Man in the High Castle by Philip K. Dick (5/5)

The back says: Philip K. Dick's acclaimed cult novel gives us a horrifying glimpse of an alternative world - one where the Allies have lost the Second World War. In this nightmare dystopia the Nazis have taken over New York, the Japanese control California and the African continent is virtually wiped out. In a neutral buffer zone in America that divides the world's new rival superpowers, lives the author of an underground bestseller. His book offers a new vision of reality, giving hope to the disenchanted. Can other, better worlds really exist.

I say: Oh my goodness me, I think this may have shattered my brain – and I’m still trying to pick up all the pieces – so I can’t even know how or where to begin with it all. I’m slowly, and steadily, falling in more and more in love with PKD with each novel I read, even if my brain may never be the same.

Which may actually be a good thing...

So, we have a new world order; one in which the Germans won World War II and rule the world with their allies, the Japanese. As the synopsis above states, the Nazis rule New York and the Japanese California, but most of the action takes place in Seattle, which is run by the Japanese. We are introduced to six main characters who deal differently with the new world, and I’m not sure how to write about them without being too spoilery; but we have a white shop keeper who sells “genuine Americana products”; a Jew who has changed his name for survival; his ex-wife who is on the search for something; a Japanese who works for the trade mission; and a guy whose identity I won’t reveal.

Ha.

Some of them are connected to each other, but they all connect either by using the I, Ching (some form of ancient book and board thingy that they ask a question and it gives them an answer) or by having read The Grasshopper Lies Heavy by Hawthorne Abendsen aka "The Man in the High Castle". The book is a work of fiction about a world in which the Germans didn’t win the war, and is therefore banned in all states controlled by the Germans, but everyone else is obsessed with it. Now this is where I’m not sure how much else to write for it to be a spoiler, so I’ll just leave it at that.

I really like the way PKD writes; and even though it’s different voices from time to time, there’s a certain coherence in the wording that makes me make sure I pay attention to everything being said, as I believe everything is a clue of some sort – you get a feeling from the start that the I, Ching and The Grasshopper Lies Heavy are significant in the story, but I could never have guessed in what way.

And that’s what shattered my brain; the conclusion.

When I first finished it my first thought was WTF!? And I absolutely love and adore things that make me feel this way, even if I don’t get it straight away. Having had some time to think about it, I am in complete and total love with this. Even though I figured out some of the things about to happen before they did, there was no way I – or anyone – could have predicted that ending.

And if they tell you they did, they’re lying.

5/5 for pure excellence and a conclusion that makes me want to start re-reading this now just to see if I can piece together the clues beforehand. I bow down in awe to PKD – another dead author for “my shrine” (and it only took three novels to fully get there).

Eats, Shoots & Leaves: The Zero Tolerance Approach to Punctuation! by Lynne Truss (4/5)

The back says: A panda walks into a café. He orders a sandwich, eats it, then draws a gun and fires two shots in the air.

“Why?” asks the confused waiter, as the panda makes towards the exit. The panda produces a badly punctuated wildlife manual and tosses it over his shoulder.

“I’m a panda,” he says, at the door. “Look it up.”

The waiter turns to the relevant entry and, sure enough, finds an explanation.

“Panda. Large black-and-white bear-like mammal, native to China. Eats, shoots and leaves.”

So punctuation really does matter, even if it is only occasionally a matter of life and death.

I say: I was ecstatic when I found this in a used book store; not because I had been specifically looking for it, but because I love bad word puns, and that one in the synopsis seriously made me chuckle.

Ok, I guffawed.

There isn’t really that much to say about this, other than I learned that my excessive usage of commas is probably a sign of me having been too influenced by Wordsworth and that Emily Dickinson’s dashes all make sense (ha, poetry lecturer). I also learned a lot about who and where punctuation came from (which I’ve conveniently forgotten now) and that I am not the only one who gets really annoyed by the greengrocer’s dozen,” aka people who don’t know how to use apostrophes correctly.

That seriously annoys me.

Another thing that was truly helpful was where the punctuation goes when using quotation marks; the opposite of how the swedes do it, just to add more confusion in my life. I used to know this when I was studying in English, but since I started writing essays in Swedish, it’s all a blur.

Oh, and can I whine about people who don’t know when or how to use their, they’re or there?

No?

Well, ok then.

That’s fine, since Truss does it a lot better than I do – and with a lot more humour. Seriously, even if you don’t like or care about grammar, this book is so funny and witty that you’ll find yourself laughing and learning at the same time. Or, well actually, it’s probably only funny and witty if you care about grammar; otherwise you might just get annoyed and wonder why anyone should care.

Or, even worse, you might not understand anything at all.

I genuinely wish I could give a copy of this to everyone I know, but, considering that nobody but me cares about grammar, it’ll be a waste of time.

At least I got all my commas validated, so there!

M*A*S*H by Richard Hooker (4/5)

The Back says: The doctors and nurses who worked in the Mobile Army Surgical Hospitals (MASH) during the Korean War were well trained, dedicated, and pushed to the brink. And they were young - too young to be doing what they had to do. As Richard Hooker writes in the Foreword, 'A few flipped their lids, but most of them just raised hell, in a variety of ways and degrees.'

Meet the true-life heroes and lunatics who fought in the Korean War, and experience the martini-laced mornings, marathon high jinks, sexual escapades, and that perfectly corrupt football game that every fan of the movie will remember. It's also a story of hard work and skill in the face of enormous pressure and odds. Here is where it all began - the novel that made M*A*S*H a legend.

I say: When I was young – far too young to fully understand the humour – I loved the TV-series M*A*S*H. It may have something to do with my crush on Alan Alda or how much I loved Klinger and Radar. So imagine my shock to realise that the series was based on a book! The same day I found out I ordered it and as soon as I got it, I read it.

And it was hilarious.

I laughed out loud a lot, and chuckled at quite a few things as well. Hooker is great at the comedy and mingling it with the serious things that the doctors had to deal with during the war. There was a lot of medical talk, and since I’m not in that field I cannot say if it was genuine or not, but it blended in nicely and was adequately explained. It’s nearly impossible for me to grasp the concept of having to work for 18 hours straight trying to save soldier after soldier, and it was understandable why these doctors – and sometimes nurses – had such, often, crude humour; it was a form of relief from the seriousness of the war; the only way to escape.

And also, maybe, they were just really funny guys.

If you’ve seen the series, you’ll notice that most of the things that happen in the novel also take place in different episodes of season one of the series. If you haven’t seen the series, what the hell is wrong with you get a hold of it stat.

I made a medical pun.

Heh.

Most of the people from the series are in here except Klinger, which was sad because he was one of my favourite characters. Even if you don’t like the medical industry or novels about war, M*A*S*H gives you a great mix of the seriousness with the comedy. That is if you are amused by sharp wit and quite juvenile pranks. If I hadn’t seen the series I may have appreciated this more, but I have to concede that the series are a tad funnier.

Just a tad...

And they have Alan Alda!

Friday, 28 December 2012

Maus, Vol. 1: My Father Bleeds History (3/5) and Maus, Vol 2: A Survivor's Tale, Vol. 2: And Here My Troubles Began by Art Spiegelman (3.5/5)

GoodReads says: A story of a Jewish survivor of Hitler's Europe and his son, a cartoonist who tries to come to terms with his father's story and history itself.

I say: That GoodReads synopsis is very short but straight to the point. It’s a graphic novel in two parts about Vladek Spiegelman retelling his experiences in World War II and in Auschwitz. I’m not even going to attempt at retelling any of it myself, and will only say that it’s a very tragic, but somehow also uplifting, story. Vladek is a whiny old man who is obsessed with saving everything and spending as little as possible, and once you realise what he’s been through it all becomes understandable. My favourite parts where the ones where he was whining about how his new wife was trying to steal money from him, and all the things he did to make sure he didn’t spend any money – like stealing matches from a nearby hotel.

It was tragi-comical.

Other than that I can’t really say that I got much out of the story; mostly because I’ve read and seen so much about World War II in my life that at this point it has to be really exceptional for me to really like it.

I have become jaded – which is sad – but such is life.

Supposedly it’s somehow avant-garde that all races and nationalities are different animals; Jews are rats mice, Germans cats, Poles pigs, Americans dogs, and so on, but it just seemed to me like an easy way to differentiate people. Other than that, it’s all black and white, and since I rarely read, or very much care for, graphic novels it left me a bit meh. Perhaps if I had read this when I was younger it would have been more interesting (I had a period when I was 13 in which I only read literature about World War II and especially about/written by concentration camp survivors). Considering where I am now in life, I was more interested in the relationship between father and son than father and war.

So yeah, 3/5 for the first part and 3.5/5 for the second, but by all means, do read this. I’m sure that I would have liked everything better if it was presented as a prose novel.

Thursday, 27 December 2012

Waiting for Godot by Samuel Beckett (5/5) [re-read]

GoodReads says: A seminal work of twentieth century drama, Waiting for Godot was Samuel Beckett's first professionally produced play. It opened in Paris in 1953 at the tiny Left Bank Theatre de Babylone, and has since become a cornerstone of twentieth-century theater. The story line revolves around two seemingly homeless men waiting for someone or something named Godot. Vladimir and Estragon wait near a tree on a barren stretch of road, inhabiting a drama spun from their own consciousness. The result is a comical wordplay of poetry, dreamscapes, and nonsense, which has been interpreted as a somber summation of mankind's inexhaustible search for meaning. Beckett's language pioneered an expressionistic minimalism that captured the existentialism of post-World War II Europe. His play remains one of the most magical and beautiful allegories of our time.

I say: This is one my all-time favourite plays and I want nothing more than to get a chance to see it live on stage. Although that’s usually a tad scary since the characters act in my head the way I want them to, and I really don’t want to be disappointed.
Which is kind of funny since not much really happens in this play.

We have Estragon and Vladimir who, while they are waiting for Godot, talk about how much they hate waiting for him/her/it and run into a man, Pozzo, with another man pretending to be his dog, Lucky. And that’s pretty much the entire play.
Seriously.

Obviously the genius lies in the dialogue; the play on words; the desperation and reluctance to leave their spot. At the end of Act I a boy shows up to tell them that he has a message from Godot; that he will show up tomorrow.
So they stay.

Act II is pretty much the same as the previous one; more play on words, Pozzo and Lucky show up, and Estragon and Vladimir get more desperate. And at the end the boy returns to say that Godot will come the following day.
Magic.

Like I said, the magic lies in the dialogue and the fact that we don’t know how long they have been waiting for Godot, how long they will continue to wait for Godot, or even who Godot is. People have been pondering/debating over whom Godot is for yonks, and the most common thought is that Godot is God, which Beckett rebuffs. Every time I re-read this play I try to find new theories of who Godot may be, and the most exciting part is trying to make all the pieces fit.
Oh, and laughing at poor Vladimir and Estragon, of course.

Sunday, 23 December 2012

Fosterland av Dilsa Demirbag-Sten (3/5)

Baksidan säger: En sexårig flicka och hennes familj lämnar nomadstammen i turkiska Kurdistan för 70-talets svenska folkhem och en ljusare framtid. För barnen går det bra, de ser ingen konflikt mellan det gamla och det nya. Men föräldrarna har det inte lika enkelt. De hade offrat allt för att ge sina barn en bättre framtid men känner i stället att de förlorar dem. Mamman försöker förgäves ta kontroll över barnen och pappans aggressivitet tar sig alltmer våldsamma uttryck. Till slut är skilsmässan ett faktum.

En fristående fortsättning på den hyllade debuten Stamtavlor. Det här är sagan om en flicka som gör motstånd mot det som anses självklart, om syskonkärlek och om en mamma som mot sin vilja tvingas bryta med allt det gamla.


Jag säger: Jag var tvungen att läsa den här för min kurs och hade annars aldrig plockat upp den, men jag är ganska glad över tvånget. Det är en väldigt intressant – och intensiv – berättelse, och jag kan inte annat än att se på Dilsa som en överlevare. Inte bara för att hon överlevde barn och tonåren, men också våldet i hemmet, problemen utanför det, och allt som förknippas med hennes bakgrund. Hon vågar gå sin egen väg och trotsar sina föräldrar gång på gång, något som inte är accepterat i hennes kultur, och slutligen så hamnar hon där hon vill vara.

Och hennes mamma står vid hennes sida genom det hela; kanske inte med glädje, men hon står kvar.

Det här är en berättelse som skulle tjäna på att bli till film då Dilsa skriver väldigt visuellt. Jag ser händelserna tydligt framför mig, och ofta är det väldigt nostalgiskt, som när hon pratar om vad barnen har för sig och vilken musik de lyssnar på. Men trots att det är en fin berättelse så känns den även väldigt ensidig; Dilsa tycker inte om sin far och hans familj och pratar nästan enbart negativt om dem. Visst är det förståeligt, men till slut kändes det som att hon ville avsky för avskyns skull. Även inslaget med frieriet kändes krystat och även då det bara var en kort tid i hennes liv, så hade det tjänat på att antingen fyllas ut lite eller tunnas ner.

3/5 får boken och jag tror inte att jag kommer att läsa Stamtavlor – det räcker gott så här.

Saturday, 22 December 2012

Lord of the Flies by William Golding (5/5) [re-read]

GoodReads says: William Golding's compelling story about a group of very ordinary small boys marooned on a coral island has become a modern classic. At first it seems as though it is all going to be great fun; but the fun before long becomes furious and life on the island turns into a nightmare of panic and death. As ordinary standards of behaviour collapse, the whole world the boys know collapses with them—the world of cricket and homework and adventure stories—and another world is revealed beneath, primitive and terrible. Lord of the Flies remains as provocative today as when it was first published in 1954, igniting passionate debate with its startling, brutal portrait of human nature. Though critically acclaimed, it was largely ignored upon its initial publication. Yet soon it became a cult favorite among both students and literary critics who compared it to J.D. Salinger's The Catcher in the Rye in its influence on modern thought and literature.

Labeled a parable, an allegory, a myth, a morality tale, a parody, a political treatise, even a vision of the apocalypse, Lord of the Flies has established itself as a true classic
.

I say: I honestly have no idea how many times I’ve read this. As a child/teen I was obsessed with the last moments of the story and would re-read the entire book just to feel that sense of relief.
Was that a spoiler?

As always, I don’t really know what to say when I have to review re-reads. I always give it 5/5 because it’s pure perfection in every sense of the word, and it brings up so many questions about humanity. I had to read this for uni and, as per usual, having discussed it and written an essay about it I’m sort of bored of talking about it. However, I will say that the most interesting question this brings out is whether or not there is inherent evil in man?
Or, in this case, boy.

I believe that we all have good and evil inside of us and that the circumstances and consequences dictate which side we choose to turn to. Ralph and Piggy obviously want to make the new society work and still have a conscience – if I may be so bold – whereas Jack and Roger turn to evil in the basest sense of the word. The question is therefore if Jack and Roger were evil from the start but never had the chance to show it, or if the island brought out that evil in them? In my opinion they must have always had some evil instincts, and the fact that there are no consequences for their actions allows for this to be brought to the forefront.
I mean, honestly, how many of us would do the things they did given the chance?

I wouldn’t.
Not in a million years; and not simply because I have never been shipwrecked on a deserted island, but because I have certain morals.
Blah, blah, blah...

Like I said, I could go on for days about this, but shan’t. If you haven’t read this I recommend that you do – straight away – because it’s so action-packed and fast-paced. And if you aren’t interested in the philosophical aspects it still reads like a great novel. More than anything, it scares me.
Every. Time.

Svenska Dramer (snabbrecensioner)

Det är nu ett par månader sedan jag läste dessa dramer så mina recensioner kommer att vara snabba och korta.

Natten är Dagens Mor av Lars Norén(4/5) är ett familjedrama som utspelar sig under en natt i köket till deras hotell. Pappan är alkoholist och gör allt för att gömma sitt drickande, mamman är sjuklig och vill ut ur relationen och de två sönerna, Georg och David, har sina egna bekymmer. Alla ryker ihop under pjäsens gång och det som jag fastnade för var hur verkliga familjeproblemen verkade. Det var mycket dolda känslor som till slut kom fram och slutet var väldigt oväntat. Jag hade gärna sett denna på scen.

Sanna Kvinnor: Ett Skådespel i Tre Akter av Anne Charlotte Leffler (4/5) kretsar runt en lag från 1874 som sa att kvinnan hade rätt till sina egna pengar, och det intressanta är att se hur konsekvenserna kan ha sett ut. Dramat handlar om tre kvinnor i samma familj; mamman vars man ständigt spelar bort pengar, hennes ena dotter som sett sin make med en annan kvinna, och den andra dottern som försörjer familjen och sedan försöker reda ut de andra två kvinnornas problem. Hon försöker få mamman att skriva över sina pengar på henne så att pappan inte kan spela bort dem, och försöker få sin syster att lämna sin man. De båda kvinnorna går först med på det, men ångrar sig till slut.

Romeos Julia av Victoria Benedictsson (2/5) är en tråkig och ganska meningslös pjäs om en poet som hälsar på en skådespelerska i hopp om att förföra henne. Tyvärr så inser han att hon är trogen sin man och att hon inte alls är lik karaktären hon spelar på scen.

Idlaflickorna av Kristina Lugn (3/5) handlar om två kvinnor som möts på en resa. Båda har varit Idlaflickor och har en man som heter Herman. På resan pratar de med och om varandra och det blir svårare att skilja dem åt – eller ens veta om det är samma person. Det är en bra och stundtals poetisk dialog med många tänkvärda citat. Tyvärr så tycker jag att Lugn tar det lite för långt i slutet – eller så har jag helt enkelt inte förstått. Jag skulle dock vilja se den på scen för att ta in atmosfären och höra orden andas.

Thursday, 20 December 2012

Slaughterhouse 5 by Kurt Vonnegut (3.5/5)

The back says: Prisoner of war, optometrist, time-traveller – these are the life roles of Billy Pilgrim, hero of this latter-day Pilgrim’s Progress, a miraculously moving, bitter and funny story of innocence faced with apocalypse, in the most original anti-war novel since Catch-22.

I say: This is another novel that I’ve heard people talk about for yonks but never picked up – probably because I never knew what it was about. The full title is Slaughterhouse-Five or The Children’s Crusade: A Duty-Dance with Death, which is explained in the novel as such: the narrator is visiting an old war friend whose wife doesn’t want him to write about the war since they were “just babies then,” so he says he’ll call the book The Children’s Crusade. Slaughterhouse-Five refers to the number five slaughterhouse in which they were kept prisoner.

So it goes.

Then we are introduced to Billy Pilgrim who was also in the war with the narrator and his friend. The narrator pops up every now and then as a minor character in Billy’s story, which makes for interesting little cameos where you go ‘ah.’ Now, here’s where the weirdness of the novel begins. Billy claims to be able to time travel and therefore his story is told in a disjointed manner. He is also abducted several times by aliens from the planet Tralfamador where they put him in a zoo for the Tralfamadorians to observe. So we weave between his trips into space, his experiences in the war and his life afterwards as an optometrist.

So it goes.

I’m not really sure how I feel about this novel; parts of it I loved and others were a bit annoying. The fact that Vonnegut uses the phrase “and so it goes” was one of the main annoyances. According to Wiki it is used when “death, dying and mortality occurs as a narrative transition to another subject, as a memento mori, as comic relief, and to explain the unexplained. It appears 106 times.”

So it goes.

I do realise that this is satire and sometimes it’s done in a brilliant way, like with the issue of the boots, the stealing of random things, and the starving horse, but there’s something about it that sort of misses the mark. I can’t put my finger on exactly what it is, but maybe it’s just that I don’t like Vonnegut. This is my first time reading him, and I did like his style of writing fine enough. It was funny in an inoffensive way, quirky enough to keep me interested and well-thought out.

It just left me a bit meh.

So it goes.

I think I was expecting more, or something else, and even though there are a few philosophical issues brought up that beckon deeper discussions, I’m too underwhelmed to care. So 3.5/5 is all it gets and I’m not too disinclined to try it again in a few years.

So it goes.

Yes, I realise that I am using it indiscriminately throughout this review, but I’m trying to make some kind of point that has pretty much died at this point.

So it goes.

Zing!

Wednesday, 19 December 2012

Suicide by Édouard Levé (5/5)

The back says: Edouard Levé delivered the manuscript for his final book, Suicide, just a few days before he took his own life.

Suicide cannot be read as simply another novel—it is, in a sense, the author’s own oblique, public suicide note, a unique meditation on this most extreme of refusals. Presenting itself as an investigation into the suicide of a close friend—perhaps real, perhaps fictional—more than twenty years earlier, Levé gives us, little by little, a striking portrait of a man, with all his talents and flaws, who chose to reject his life, and all the people who loved him, in favor of oblivion. Gradually, through Levé’s casually obsessive, pointillist, beautiful ruminations, we come to know a stoic, sensible, thoughtful man who bears more than a slight psychological resemblance to Levé himself. But Suicide is more than just a compendium of memories of an old friend; it is a near-exhaustive catalog of the ramifications and effects of the act of suicide, and a unique and melancholy farewell to life.

I say: I am so helplessly in love with this and I have found it hard to tell/explain it to people without having them think me suicidal. Yes, the book is about a friend’s suicide and its consequences, but at the same time it’s about so much more.

It’s about life and how we view it.

*refrains from going into philosophy mode about the absurd*

Because I have this absurd fascination with all things dark that tend to make other people uncomfortable, I wanted to read this for a very long time. I knew nothing about Levé prior to reading it, apart from the fact that he committed suicide shortly after finishing it, and even though I was trying not to read too much of the author into the text, it’s hard not to. The way he speaks about his friend – to his friend – indicates a man who is trying to sort out his own feeling about the suicide rather than try to understand it.

Does that make any sense?
“Your life was less sad than your suicide might suggest. You were said to have died of suffering. But there was not as much sadness in you as there is now in those who remember you. You died because you searched for happiness at the risk of finding the void. We shall have to wait for death before we can know what it is that you found. Or before leaving off knowing anything at all, if it is to be silence and emptiness that awaits us.” – p 29


Normally people associate suicide with the inability to cope with life, but Levé writes about a person who was searching for something else. Like the quote says, and is reiterated throughout the novel, he wasn’t sad; he was just not where he felt he wanted to be. I personally don’t necessarily think that suicide is a bad thing (it’s the absurdist in me), so it was nice to read a book that doesn’t focus on blaming the friend for doing it. More than anything, the narrator is more concerned about the legacy that his friend’s suicide left.
“The way in which you quit it rewrote the story of your life in a negative form. Those who knew you reread each of your acts in the light of your last. Henceforth, the shadow of this tall black tree hides the forest that was your life. When you are spoken of, it begins with recounting your death, before going back to explain it. Isn’t it peculiar how this final gesture inverts your biography? I’ve never heard a single person, since your death, tell your life’s story starting at the beginning. Your suicide has become the foundational act, and those earlier acts that you had hoped to relieve of their burden of meaning by way of this gesture, the absurdity of which so attracted you, have ended up simply alienated instead. Your final second changed your life in the eyes of others. You are like the actor who, at the end of the play, with a final word, reveals that he is a different character than the one he appeared to be playing.” – p 29/30


There is so much beauty, profundity and sadness in that quote and realisation, and that is what this novel is about; life and how we view it. I know I already said that, but I think that it bears repeating in case someone thinks this is merely about someone ending their life.

I love the way Levé writes and I wanted to get stuck in that dreamlike state for a very long time. The prose is exquisitely delicate and it almost feels like a simple draw of breath, or turn of page, may shatter the memories and never bring them back. It’s achingly beautiful to witness this life get dissected with so much acceptance and lack of blame. The narrator is telling his friend that yes, he did a selfish thing by committing this act, but in the end he realises that living merely in order not to hurt others, and thus hurting yourself, is no life at all.

The novel ends with a few pages of poetry that the friend had left behind and in reading those we get a much clearer picture of who he might have been and why the narrator can pass no judgement.

Needless to say, this is pure perfection.

Monday, 17 December 2012

Are We There Yet?

I got back from a nice holiday in Germany earlier today and the plan was to tie up all the loose ends on the blog, but I fell asleep re-reading Jane Eyre by Charlotte Brontë.

As you do.

[Aside: Damn that Mr Rochester.]

Having woken up and discovered a new site to waste spend endless hours, The Book Cover Archive site (work in progress) and blog, I now regret promising not to buy any new more books this year.

There's so much pretty...

So uhm, last lecture of the year on Wednesday and then I only have about a billion million trillion maybe seven books I have to read and analyse by 10 January. I may get the chance to finally finish Proust this year and conveniently forget maybe remember that I was to re-read all of Oscar Wilde's works this year.

Ho hum.

*off to see what everyone else has been up to*

Sunday, 9 December 2012

Sjunde Våningen av Åsa Grennvall (2/5)

Baksidan säger: Ingenting.

Jag säger: Det här är en självbiografisk serieroman som handlar om Åsa som börjar på folkhögskola och känner till en början att hon äntligen kan leva livet som hon själv vill. Hon har tydligen inte haft så mycket kompisar innan pga. sin stil, men här blir hon snabbt accepterad. Hon träffar en kille som alla tycker är underbar, men efter ett tag så börjar han misshandla henne.

Och sedan handlar det om hur mycket Åsa utstår innan hon väljer att lämna honom.

Jag tyckte inte att den här var något vidare bra, dels för att jag inte tyckte om bilderna och även för att utförandet kändes lite tafatt. Den är riktad till ungdomar, men budskapet går ut till alla. Åsa tar upp alla ”klassiska” signaler som hon väljer att blunda för; isolering, dåligt temperament, avundsjuka, krav på förändring, osv och ur den synpunkten var det effektivt gjort.

Det finns inte så mycket mer att säga om den här – jag var tvungen att läsa den till en kurs, men den framkallade mycket bra diskussioner, och det är ju alltid positivt.

Friday, 7 December 2012

Insects Are Just Like You and Me Except Some of Them Have Wings by Kuzhali Manickavel (4/5)

The back says: A centipede in a shoe, revelations in a shoebox, nosebleeds, exploding women, and a dead mouse named Miraculous populate this collection of thirty-five short stories by one of India's most original young writers.

I say: I can’t remember how or where I came across this title, but I do remember thinking that that anyone who would come up with a title like that deserves to be read.

So I bought it, read it, and loved most of it.

This collection of short stories is probably easiest described as softly dreamlike with elements of the absurd. The prose is beautiful, captivating, and very witty. Manickavel has a way of lulling you into a story and then suddenly drop in an element of absurdity or humour that’ll have you re-reading the sentence/passage to make sure you understood it correctly. But it never feels contrived; you just sort of ponder it for a second and then tell yourself that of course he keeps his twin brother that didn’t survive birth in a jar – why wouldn’t he!?

And I love that.

Sometimes I didn’t really understand what Manickavel was trying to say, and that is the main reason why I rated this 4/5. I understand that an element of the absurd is the very illogicality of it, but I still like some type of coherence. For instance:

“I tried to think of things we had done, things we were capable of doing. I wondered if I should try and be sick again but I had a feeling I would only cough up lost children and bags filled with dead kittens.” – p 112

Say what?

But then she twists it around and ends the story with the achingly beautiful:

“I closed my eyes and watched as the sun slowly ground its heels into my eyelids.”

All of the stories are set in India and reading them makes me once again promise to read more Asian literature. The insects make often strange cameos in these stories, but like I said, it works. It’s a lyrical and strange journey that I look forward to experiencing again in the future and, of course, more of Manickavel’s work.

Thursday, 6 December 2012

Kallocain by Karin Boye (3.5/5)

The back says: This classic Swedish novel envisioned a future of drab terror. Seen through the eyes of idealistic scientist Leo Kall, Kallocain's depiction of a totalitarian world state is a montage of what novelist Karin Boye had seen or sensed in 1930s Russia and Germany. Its central idea grew from the rumors of truth drugs that ensured the subservience of every citizen to the state.

I say: I read this in Swedish, but since it has been translated into English I thought I’d write the review in English since I think that this is a book that doesn’t get nearly the attention it needs.

So, Leo Kall has invented a truth serum called Kallocain, which he proposes be used on all citizens to detect any form of animosity towards the state, or even to help prevent crimes before they happen. We are somewhere in a future totalitarian state where the citizens are taught that the state is everything and they are merely tools at its disposal. Leo ended his first marriage since they couldn’t have any children, and then remarried and had three. It is the duty of every citizen to provide the state with as many children as possible, and at the age of 8 the children are sent to the state for education (they are allowed to visit their parents occasionally). There are “police eyes” and “police ears” everywhere and each household has a maid that is to report weekly on the family’s activity.

So far, so creepy.

At the start of the book Leo is very loyal to the state and is thrilled that people now are able to be convicted for thought crimes. Initially he wanted the Kallocain to be used in court in order to save time, but after trying the serum on a man who admits that he doesn’t think the state is everything, he realises that all citizens’ thoughts should belong to the state. They thus start a campaign to use the Kallocain on as many citizens as they can by introducing a system whereby you can anonymously inform on anyone you think is guilty of a thought crime. Those convicted are then sent to a work camp where they are unable to contaminate other citizens’ minds.

As always with these stories, there comes a point whereby Leo starts questioning his own thoughts about the state and the consequences of his product.

Dun dun dun dun...

More than anything, I loved the premise of the book. It’s quite interesting how this was published 8 years before 1984 by George Orwell, deals with the same issues and yet is so unknown. I’ve heard about it all my life but never bothered to read it, mostly because I didn’t realise how thought-provoking it is.

The only issue I had with it was that I didn’t really like the way it was written. I realise that this may not be the case with the English translation, but the Swedish was rather dry and somewhat boring, to be honest. It’s written like an explanation by Leo as to how he wound up where he is, so we know that he somehow winds up in captivity of some sort, and that was a nice element as I wanted to know how he ended up there – it kept my interest in the story. There is also some tension between Leo and his supervisor and his wife, and we are constantly wondering which one, if any, is guilty of a thought crime, and if anyone will turn them in.

The psychological aspect was very well-done.

So yeah, I’m giving this a 3.5/5 because of the way it was written and also, I suspect, because I read this after 1984. It’s always when I read books like this that I wish I was a part of a book club and could discuss them. Instead I shall try my best (and fail, as per usual) to get someone to read it so that I don’t have to keep talking to myself.

Not that there’s anything wrong with that.

Wednesday, 5 December 2012

Kalla Det Vad Fan Du Vill av Marjaneh Bakhtiari (2.5/5)

Baksidan säger: När Panthea Rastegar och Amir Irandoust lämnar Iran för att flytta till Sverige med sina två barn har de höga förväntningar. Men de inser snart att de ju inte är utvandrare, som de trott, utan invandrare – och det är något helt annat. Nu börjar deras jakt på Sverige och försöker att förstå svenskarna och deras beteende.

Deras dotter Bahar vill å sin sida helst slippa fundera på sådant som etniskt tillhörighet och integration. Men pojkvännens mamma, som är besatt av att berikas av det mångkulturella, och hans farfar en patriotisk skåning, gör det inte lätt för henne.

Jag säger: Usch vad den här var full med fördomar och trams. Jag var tvungen att läsa den här till min kurs och hade annars aldrig gett den en andra blick då jag av titeln direkt förstår vad det kommer att handla om. Allting i den känns så stereotypiskt och tråkigt; en förälder som gör allt för att integrera sig, men inte lyckas; en annan förälder som vill att barnen ska vara stolta över deras härkomst; ett barn som bara vill leva som svenskt och gör allt för att provocera; och ett barn som bara flyter med.

Jag har sett det innan och Bakhtiari tillför ingenting nytt.

Det är väldigt mycket talspråk, någonting som jag inte tycker om, och jag förstår varför Bakhtiari valt att använda sig av det då det visar skillnaderna mellan när barnen pratar med sina vänner och när de pratar med sina föräldrar. Handlingen utspelar sig i Malmö så det är skånska vi har att göra med. Sedan finns en jamaikan med, Moses, vars dialog är skriven på engelska med jamaikansk brytning – detta innebar inte så stora problem för mig själv, men jag tänker på de som inte är vana vid den dialekten kan ha problem att förstå.

Annars så händer allt som brukar hända i de här böckerna och jag fortsatte att läsa för att jag var tvungen.

En sak som var positiv var när Bakhtiari tog upp de problem som kan uppstå när en person med invandrarbakgrund inte kan uttala ord korrekt. Det var lite roligt, så där i förbifarten.

Tydligen så finns det en fortsättning som jag inte tänker röra (om jag inte blir tvingad, d.v.s.).

Monday, 3 December 2012

Boredom by Alberto Moravia (4.5/5)

The back says: Boredom, the story of a failed artist and pampered son of a rich family who becomes dangerously attached to a young model, examines the complex relations between money, sex, and imperilled masculinity. Dino is approaching middle age, and he is consumed with boredom – not just a lack of interest in life, but a feeling of profound disconnection with the world at large. A painter, he has given up his art to live from day to day. Then he meets Cecilia, a beautiful, unabashedly sexual, strangely impassive teenage model who becomes his mistress. But as she eludes his increasingly frantic efforts to take control of her, body and mind, even to buy her if necessary, his own life spins dangerously out of control.

I say: I have found another potential new favourite and, of course, dead writer. Yay me! I had been staring at Moravia’s Contempt for a few weeks when I came across this one and thought I’d try it first (and now I’m sort of kicking myself for not buying them both at the same time), and how utterly happy and I about that?

Well, very.

In Boredom we meet Dino who is bored of life. But note: it’s not boredom in the usual sense of the word.


“For many people boredom is the opposite of amusement; and amusement means distraction, forgetfulness. For me, boredom is not the opposite of amusement; I might even go so far as to say that in certain aspects it actually resembles amusement inasmuch as it gives rise to distraction and forgetfulness, even if of a very special type. Boredom to me consists in a kind of insufficient, or inadequacy, or lack of reality. Reality, when I am bored, has always had the same disconcerting effect upon me as (to use a metaphor) a too short blanket has upon a sleeping man on a winter night: he pulls it down over his feet and his chest gets cold, then he pulls it up on his chest and his feet get cold, and so he never succeeds in falling properly to sleep. [...]

The feeling of boredom originates for me in a sense of the absurdity of a reality which is insufficient, or anyhow unable, to convince me of its own effective existence." 
 – p 5

And on it goes.

Since I love philosophy, and especially the absurd and existentialism, this was an extremely exciting read for me. Dino goes on and on about his problem with being bored and how this affects the rest of his life. In fact, he’s not even really a painter; he just pretends to be one as a form of rebellion to being born rich. Essentially he doesn’t know what he wants out of life and instead just lies in his studio feeling a sort of contempt for everyone around him.

And then he meets a girl and it all goes downhill.

He becomes obsessed with her simply because she is not obsessed with him (or anything else, for that matter) and he cannot figure out why. He knows that he doesn’t want her for her, but merely in order to be able to discard her.

I’ll spare you the details of what my armchair psychology degree tells me lies at the bottom of this behaviour.

What I really loved about this was the prose. Moravia is an extremely intelligent writer and uses those long, winding sentences with a seemingly endless amount of commas. It’s equally frustrating and riveting being inside of Dino’s neurotic head, and I couldn’t help but sighing and telling him (out loud, mind you) to stop this useless obsessing. Basically he is just a bored rich boy who should get his act together and stop playing the tortured artist, mostly because he’s not a boy anymore, but also because the shtick obviously isn’t working for him. He is constantly asking his mother for money and resenting his need to do so, and when he meets Cecilia he is relentlessly goading her into saying things he knows will upset him.

It’s all very exhausting.

Having said all that, I enjoyed every most seconds of it. Moravia kept me captivated because I wanted to see how deep his obsession would become and just how far he would go to try to possess this poor girl.

He went far.

Very far.

So yeah, 4.5/5 because of a little plot twist towards the end that didn’t feel plausible and seemed more like a way to bring the story to an end. Other than that it was interesting both from a psychological and an existentialist point of view, and I desperately want to discuss this with someone, so I’m off to find a suitable victim.

Sunday, 2 December 2012

A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith (5/5)

GoodReads says: The beloved American classic about a young girl's coming-of-age at the turn of the century, Betty Smith's "A Tree Grows in Brooklyn" is a poignant and moving tale filled with compassion and cruelty, laughter and heartache, crowded with life and people and incident. The story of young, sensitive, and idealistic Francie Nolan and her bittersweet formative years in the slums of Williamsburg has enchanted and inspired millions of readers for more than sixty years. By turns overwhelming, sublime, heartbreaking, and uplifting, the daily experiences of the unforgettable Nolans are raw with honesty and tenderly threaded with family connectedness -- in a work of literary art that brilliantly captures a unique time and place as well as incredibly rich moments of universal experience.

I say: This is one of those classics that I’ve heard the title of but never the plot, so I have never really paid it any mind. However, a few weeks back a friend and I was discussing music and realised that a lot of the bands we like are from Brooklyn, New York, so I told myself that I should read this.

And it wasn’t a moment too soon.

I fell in such deep, aching and ridiculous love with this I can’t even know what to say other than beauty and pure perfection. Everything from the brilliant prose, to the carefully carved out characters and their destinies brought admiration of their struggle and strength.

In essence it’s a rather simple story that I’ve read a hundred times before; Francie Nolan grows up in a poor neighbourhood but wants nothing but to do and be better than those around her. Her intelligent and quiet observation of the world around her makes her seem older than she is, while her love for her alcoholic father and realisation that her mother loves her brother more makes her incredibly vulnerable and strong at the same time. We follow her from the age of 11 to 17 and one element that I really loved was her love of reading and how she explained the way she connected with the books.

There are a lot of issues presented in this book – and I could probably spend a lifetime discussing them – but I appreciate how un-preachy Smith is. Some may disagree with me, but we are dealing with a poor family and therefore their poverty is going to be at the centre of their lives. I enjoyed how detailed the descriptions were, like how we were told exactly how much fresh bread cost and how the children were sent out to buy day old bread instead; how they’d have to wait an extra hour to fix the heat in the house because coal was so expensive. These details really brought it home to me and I could visualise it all so clearly in my head. This isn’t a ‘woe is me’ story – far from it – nor is it a ‘I came from nothing and look at me now’ story either; it’s just a story.

The obviousness (and cheesiness) of the quote at the beginning of the book didn’t discourage me from further reading, and although it is beautiful it’s a tad much as well.


“There's a tree that grows in Brooklyn. Some people call it the Tree of Heaven. No matter where its seed falls, it makes a tree which struggles to reach the sky. It grows in boarded-up lots and out of neglected rubbish heaps. It grows up out of cellar gratings. It is the only tree that grows out of cement. It grows lushly... survives without sun, water, and seemingly without earth. It would be considered beautiful except that there are too many of it.”


Since I borrowed this book I had to look up the quote online, so I’ll assume it’s written correctly and that Francie at a later time elaborates:


“If there was only one tree like that in the world, you would think it was beautiful. But because there are so many, you just can't see how beautiful it really is.”


I do find those quotes beautiful; I just wish they were a bit more subtle. Either way, this book will be bought, re-read and endlessly referred to and spoken of to all who will listen.

Saturday, 1 December 2012

Oscar Wilde’s Home for Sale


If only I had £1.15 million just lying about the house, I would rush to buy this one bedroom apartment and never leave. Wilde lived there with his wife and children from 1884 until he was imprisoned in 1895 (after which he moved to Paris).

I know it’s essentially quite silly to put such importance to a place, but I still think it would be amazing to live there knowing Wilde had been there a century before. Obviously all signs of him are long gone, but even so.

Unfortunately I don’t have £1.15 million just lying about (at home or in the bank account) so perhaps I shall write a poor erotic trilogy and then we’ll see.

Yeah, I went there.